What are the qualities of a good photograph?

Suppose you’ve ever asked for feedback on your images. In that case, whether it’s on a photo-sharing website or merely entering a photo competition, you’ll understand that evaluating an image is very subjective.

Along with the constant flux of popular trends, each viewer will bring their expectations, tastes and prejudices to your image. It’s also worth noting how much cameras have moved on too. Cameras these days can produce incredible sharpness, and most images are viewed at 100%. 

All of this begs the question: is there such a thing as the perfect photo? If you need advice on your wedding photography, check out our photography packages and services at Wild Romantic Photography.

Many photographers struggle with this question. A right subject does not make a good photograph. A good camera doesn’t either. Good photographers make good photographs. But what makes a good photographer?

A good photographer understands what the qualities of a good photograph are and can implement them in their pictures.

No matter how interesting your subject is. No matter how new and expensive your camera is. These alone do not make photographs that communicate a fact, promote emotion and change people. Let alone hold a viewer’s attention. The qualities of a good picture reach beyond the right subject and camera.

Useful photographs must include certain qualities to evoke a response from people. Your choice of subject is the most prominent factor in what makes a good photo. But, unless your photos contain other essential qualities, they will be ignored. No matter how interesting you think, your subject is. 

Don’t Rely on Social Media Likes.

The number of ‘likes’ your posts receive on Instagram is not an accurate indication of how good your photos are. Modern ways of viewing pictures, mainly on social media platforms, have dumbed down good photography perception. People ignore much other than the subject as they scroll through their Instagram feed. Viewing photos on a mobile device is far from an ideal experience. Images displayed on social media are usually too small, low resolution and uncurated. Platforms like Instagram allow people to scroll through and like photographs rapidly. You can do this without paying much attention to them. This is not the right way to determine the qualities of a good picture.

What you photograph is a personal choice. How well you photograph it determines the response your photos receive from others. Whatever your subject is. Sometimes snapshots of a special issue will move people, but not often. What makes a good photograph is not determined by the subject alone. Certain elements make a good photo. 

Qualities of a Good Photograph

Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask ‘how’, while others of a more curious nature will ask ‘why’. Everybody with a camera wants to take better photos—even seasoned professionals. We want to take better pictures than we have previously taken.

If you are reading this, then I guess you are one of us who wants to take better photos. We must ask, “What are the qualities of a good photograph?” “How do we create better photos?” “What are the secrets of better photography?” “What are the qualities of a good photographer?” These are all excellent questions that will help develop the quality and style of your photos.

At Wild Romantic Photography, we have the best Melbourne wedding photographer to take memorable photos on your wedding day.

Timelessness

Great images transcend time and space. A great photo makes you appreciate its impact regardless of where and when, and how it was taken. Now, that’s not to say that these wheres and whens aren’t important questions, as photojournalism relies on these. But an image from the Iraq War doesn’t need to have location identifiers to communicate the horrors of war.

It doesn’t need an explanation.

An image that needs you to explain what it’s trying to achieve is not strong enough. Good photography often has multiple layers and depth to it; when an image is strong, the viewers will understand this. If you have to explain your composition to the viewer, your copy hasn’t worked.

Remember: a caption should enhance the viewer’s appreciation of an image, not prop it up.

Tell a story

What are the qualities of a good photograph?

Good photography doesn’t have to be social commentary, but the fact is that most great images tell some story, whether it’s a bird delivering food to its babies in the nest or even a group portrait at a wedding.

There is often a narrative sequence in good images that viewers will understand and make them feel more connected to the idea. Likewise, landscape photography can tell a story. It might show how humanity has changed the environment or say to a particular tree’s level as it changes through the seasons.

Some of the most outstanding images tell a story. Rather than relying on great composition or featuring other unique characteristics, they instead focus on storytelling. Some of the best storytelling images are found in the news and other sources of photojournalism. From the triumphant shout of a newly crowned sports champion to a protester standing in front of a tank in the Tiananmen Square massacre, these images capture and freeze moments in history for everyone to become a witness. Here are a few examples from weddings we’ve photographed.

A sign of a good photographer uses images to tell stories rather than capturing a series of isolated pictures.

The form suits the content.

What do we mean here, you might be asking? All this means is that the way you frame your subject, how you expose it, even what you decided to make short vs out of focus. These things should suit your subject.

Be judicious about what you allow in the frame.

You’ve probably often heard photographers talk about how it’s equally important what you exclude from the frame as what you include.

Professional photographers take this to heart and vigorously scan the edges of their frame before taking a picture to ensure there are no unwanted elements and distractions that could spoil the composition; when it comes to design, the simpler, the better.

Just taking this moment and observing the corners of your frame can be the most significant improvement you make to your photography, and all it takes is getting yourself into the routine of doing it.

Attention To Detail

In our time and society, where everything is about speed and efficiency, images that capture overlooked detail can be enough to make someone stop to smell the roses. While pictures of a unique and unseen point are amazing and breathtaking, you can often get the same reaction out of your audience by only shooting the detail in everyday life. We have the best wedding photographer in Yarra Valley to capture your beautiful moments on your wedding day.

Unique Perspective

Most of us live our lives, viewing the world with relatively the same perspective. This is what makes unique perspectives so attractive to the audience. Instead of shooting a child from an adult’s perspective, why not get down low and shoot them from the child’s perspective. Very low bottom-up and higher top-down can often create a much more unique and exciting image.

They convey emotion

Another hallmark of a great image is that it provokes an emotional response in the viewer. It doesn’t matter what that emotion is. It might be anger, sympathy, even lust! But an image that makes you feel something has succeeded.

As human beings, we are drawn to emotion. Whether we’re laughing or crying, sentiment ties every one of us together. Images that capture genuine displays of emotion often prove timeless, and these meaningful moments will always capture the audience’s attention.

That’s not to dismiss scientific images. Not every great idea has all six of these hallmarks. But they often do. 

Technical Standards of a Good Photograph

When you have an exciting subject, it’s possible to apply each of the elements with technical ‘correctness.’ Creating pictures with such a technique will show a good photograph’s qualities. But there is another essential quality to factor into what makes a good photo unique. I’ll address it later in this article. First, let’s take a look at these four elements.

Some technical standards that can measure the four qualities of a good photograph are:

  • Great Lighting + Careful Exposure
  • Deliberate Composition.
  • Careful Timing.
  • Pleasing colour and tone range.

Integrating some aspects into a single image is challenging. Learning to understand each of these qualities will enable you to become a better photographer. Sure, there are other aspects to creating good photos, but I believe these five elements form the basis of all good photographs. Planning your dream wedding and don’t want to miss out on the special moments on your big day? Worry no more, Wild Romantic Photography has you covered.

Great Lighting + Careful Exposure

Light is the substance and essence of photography, not of photographs, but photography. It is one of the essential qualities of a good picture. Where there is no light, it is impossible to make a photograph. Light is the raw material of photography. We are all very familiar with light and have been aware of it since before we were born. For most people, awareness of light remains in their subconscious. They don’t think about it. If we want to become genuinely creative photographers, we must consider a morning with our conscious minds.

Writing With Light

The word ‘photography’ comes from the Greek language. Phōtós means light and gráphō meaning writing/drawing, so, together, the meaning is drawing/writing, with light. Photography is mainly about storytelling. We use light to tell a story with our images. 

Do not subscribe to the popular belief that light in the middle of the day is not suitable for photography. If you’re out with your cameras on a summer’s day and the sun is high in the sky, you can still make great photos! Wherever there is light, you can make photographs. Learning to manage the morning and your exposure helps determine the qualities of a good picture. Some subjects and locations will photograph better in some light than others. So we must learn to anticipate the lighting conditions. Then plan to take photos when the light is best for the type of photographs we wish to create.

Two Categories of Light

To help us understand light and how it affects the photographic process, we can put it into two categories: ‘Hard’ light and ‘soft’ light. Hard light originates from a small source. It is relatively bright and casts a shadow with hard edges. Soft light generally stems from a large light source. It casts shadows with smooth edges or no shadow at all.

We say ‘apparently’ when talking about light sources because the size is relative. The distance the light is from your subject, and the strength of the light is significant. 

The sun on a cloudless day, for example, is a hard light source. Light from the sun casts hard shadows. Even though the sun is a huge light source, it is so far away that it is small. On a cloudy day, we will see soft or no shadows. This is because the clouds diffuse the sun’s light, scattering it and making it smoother. The clouds affecting the light are tiny compared to the size of the sun. Even so, they have the effect of creating a large, soft light source.  

Where there is more than one light source and reflected light, this will influence light quality. It will affect how hard or how soft the light appears. The relative brightness of each light source and location of the light source also has a significant effect. These factors determine in part how we see our subject and how our camera will record it.

Hard Light

In situations with hard light using your camera’s exposure meter set to ‘spot meter’ helps get a more accurate exposure. Taking a reading from the brightest part of our composition, you might get a reading of 1/250th sec, f16 at ISO 100. Taking a lesson from the darkest part of the same design, you might get 1/60th sec, f2.8 at ISO 100. That’s a seven-stop difference. Most cameras will not be able to produce well-exposed detail in both the highlight and the shadows. Because of this limitation, you need to be more creative. It would help if you controlled your exposure and composition to gain the best exposure you can.

Soft Light

Photographers often prefer to work in a softer light. This is because camera sensors and film have a limited ability to record detail at tonal extremes. The extreme dark and bright ends of the tonal range produced by hard light cannot be registered in a single photo.

Taking an exposure reading of the same composition mentioned before on a cloudy day would show a lower contrast range. You might get a lesson from the brightest part of the design of 1/60th sec, f8 at ISO 100. Taking a reading from the darkest part of the same composition, a reading of 1/60th sec, f2.8 at ISO 100 is likely. That’s a three-stop difference. This is well within the capability of most digital cameras to produce a well-exposed image. There will be detail in the brightest and darkest parts of the composition.

Making photographs where the light is softer, with a narrower dynamic range affords you greater flexibility. It is generally more comfortable, as you can capture better-exposed detail. But easy isn’t always best, and you will not ever want to see all the point. It’s possible to take the best photos when you can light subjects at the most appropriate light source. The style of photography you want to create will determine the type of light you use.

Engaging Composition.

What are the qualities of a good photograph?

Most basic photography guides include common compositional concepts like the rule of thirds and symmetry rules, but what other techniques can we use to create compelling compositions? Some less common methods involve negative space, leading lines, depth of field, and framing. I mention this rule first because it doesn’t matter which particular style, technique, or direction you follow, so long as every image is thoughtfully composed. There will be times when the composition takes a back seat to grab the shot, but it should otherwise be considered whenever possible.

Rules of Composition

You can study the rules of composition and apply them rigidly. Or you can consider them as guidelines. But following these rules does not always produce the most engaging pieces. Aim to make sure every element of your design is meaningful. Does all the subject material in your frame add something to the photo? Is your design balanced? When the essential elements of your design are well balanced, your photos will be more engaging, regardless of whether you follow the rules of composition or not. I hope this does not sound too abstract! Let me explain:

You can use the rule of thirds. Leading lines will help draw a viewer’s eye to your subject. Symmetrical framing can be implemented or any other composition technique. These ‘rules’ will give you well-composed photographs when you apply them well. Don’t use any rule of composition because you think you must use one.

This will rarely produce an appealing image. A creative piece doesn’t happen by merely applying a few rules and techniques. Starting to think about hiring a wedding photographer? Check out our range of Mornington Peninsula wedding photography here.

Careful Timing

Cartier-Bresson, regarded as the godfather of photojournalism and street photography. He said, “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression.” (as translated from his book The Decisive Moment.)

Cartier-Bresson didn’t do much landscape photography. His reference to recognising the fraction of a second is relevant to his chosen genre of photography. This, however, does not diminish the importance of careful timing in any photography genre.

Resonant Color and Tone Range

“The ability to see the quality of colour and its different relationships is an art, as well as a skill that must be honed through continual exercise.” Nevada Wier, travel photographer and author.

Light is the essence of photography. Colour and tone are the expressions of reflected light captured by our cameras. Think of light as the raw material of photography. As flour, yeast, salt, sugar, and water are the raw materials of bread, colour, and tone are like the baked loaf of bread. Colour and style are what we see when we look at a photograph. In reality, we do not see the light. We know what light is reflecting off. Colour and tone represent this in our pictures.

Beyond Clichés

The qualities of a good photograph tend to reach past apparent clichés. They will stimulate a response from the viewer. Achieving this quality in your pictures depends on the relationship you have with your subject. Whatever your issue may be, if you are distracted trying to figure out our camera settings, you will not be so open to your environment. You will not be so ready to relate to who or what you wish to photograph. Once you have learned your camera’s technical functionality, you will be prepared to explore how you see your subjects. You will begin to express your experience through your photographs. If you’d like to work with professional photographers for your wedding, book with us at Wild Romantic Photography.